The United Nations refugee agency today voiced alarm at a fresh upsurge of violence against civilians in north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by an armed rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), saying dozens have been killed and thousands forced to flee their homes.
Attacks by the LRA, which originated in Uganda, have intensified since January in DRC’s Orientale province, where some 35 people have been killed, 104 others abducted and an estimated 17,000 displaced, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Melissa Fleming, said at a press briefing in Geneva today. She noted that UNHCR had received reports of 52 raids since the start of 2011.
“An additional worrisome development is that the rebels appear to have shifted from preying on people in isolated and remote locations to targeting more populated areas,” Ms. Fleming said, adding that the latest attack happened on the morning of 24 February in the town of Banangana where eight people were killed and 30 abducted.
On 21 February, a truck ferrying relief supplies and food for a non-governmental organization was attacked in the vicinity of the Garamba National Park. Previously, on 11 February, the LRA launched an attack on Faradje territory, forcing several aid agencies to evacuate staff and leave residents to fend for themselves. Ms. Fleming added that there have also been attacks on vehicles transporting humanitarian assistance.
LRA-related violence is seriously hampering humanitarian work in the province. According to UN data some 2,000 people have been killed and 2,500 abducted, including 892 children, in attacks against civilians in villages and towns across Orientale province since December 2007.
Those abducted are forced to work in the fields, or used as sex slaves, porters or new recruits. Attacks are often accompanied by extreme cruelty, including murder, mutilation, or amputation of the lips and ears – apparently aimed at terrorizing people with a view to displacing entire populations. Trauma lasting months or years is common among those who have fled.
Ms. Fleming said that LRA attacks are causing one of Africa's biggest population displacements. Since 2008, some 290,000 people have been uprooted in Orientale province. During the same period, 20,000 Congolese have sought refugee in southern Sudan, while 3,500 have fled to the Central African Republic.